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When Work Relationships Matter: Interpersonal Forgiveness and Work Outcomes

Wenrui Cao, Reine C. van der Wal, Toon W. Taris

International Journal of Stress Management, 2021

Research details

Type of paper: Primary Empirical Study

Sample size: 1058

Open Access: No


Although the topic of forgiveness has received abundant attention in research on close relationships, little is known about the benefits of forgiveness in work relationships. This is unfortunate because research suggests that forgiveness is associated with numerous beneficial outcomes, such as improved social relationships and psychological well-being. The present research addresses the question whether and when forgiveness is associated with enhanced work outcomes. It was expected that forgiveness is associated with better work outcomes, especially when perceived work relationship quality between victim and offender is strong rather than weak. Study 1 (_n_ = 472 MTurk participants) revealed that trait forgiveness was strongly associated with a broad range of work outcomes. Study 2 (_n_ = 216 Dutch working employees) showed that state forgiveness was negatively associated with burnout. Study 3 (_n_ = 370 Prolific participants) replicated the positive association between forgiveness (both trait and state) and work outcomes (especially well-being-related work outcomes, that is, job satisfaction, work engagement, and less burnout). Moreover, the associations between state forgiveness and work outcomes were stronger when the quality of work relationships (i.e., exchange quality) was high rather than low. Furthermore, only in cases of high exchange quality, the positive association between trait forgiveness and work outcomes could be explained by higher levels of state forgiveness. These findings suggest that levels of work relationship quality are of great importance to better understand forgiveness in the work context. Implications of these findings for the role of interpersonal forgiveness in the work context are discussed.